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Spring 2008 Vol. VI, No. 3

The Green Issue

Is AUB Green?

Anyone who knows Lebanon also knows that the AUB campus is one of the rare green spots in Beirut. With its fine old trees, shaded terraces, trimmed lawns, and impeccable flowerbeds, the verdant shade of AUB beckons like a welcome oasis in the urban desert. But just how green is AUB in environmental terms? What is AUB doing to meet the challenges of global warming, energy conservation, waste management, and recycling? MainGate went in search of answers, starting with the very landscape that characterizes the campus.

Under the AUB Middle Campus Landscape (AMICAL) plan, Jala Makhzoumi, coordinator of AUB’s Landscape Design and Ecological Management Program and Salma Talhouk, professor of landscape, horticulture, and conservation, have laid out a blueprint for an ecologically sustainable and climate-friendly campus. In it, they argue in favor of native plants that are more affordable, require little irrigation and longterm maintenance, and look beautiful in their natural surrounding. This recommendation is also in keeping with the biology and history of the campus and in sharp contrast to the move towards the standardization of green spaces globally. In addition, there are environmental savings because alien species incur importation costs and often have a serious detrimental effect on native plants. AUB has set its sights on taking the lead, both nationally and regionally, in advocating sustainability and the prudent management of resources. The proposed landscape will facilitate the University’s move towards campus-wide sustainable management as well as showcasing how theory can be turned into practice.

It will also probably come as no surprise to AUBites to learn that the University’s Environmental Health Safety and Risk Management Department (EHSRM), under the strict management of Azmi Imad, is a leader in the field in Lebanon. Committed to the safe disposal of hazardous materials, EHSRM follows stringent international guidelines and makes AUB the first institution in Lebanon to dispose properly of hazardous chemical, or bio-waste, generated in lab work and during hospital treatments. Since 1999, 30 tons have been exported to Europe for safe treatment under the UN Basel Convention.

At the same time, the Health Physics Services (HPS) division of EHSRM, responsible for safety and disposal of radioisotopes, ionizing, and non ionizing radiation at AUB, has an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), through the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission (LAEC), to dispose of unwanted radioactive sources, such as Cobalt-60, which is used in sterilizing medical equipment, radiography, radiotherapy, and lab work. EHSRM is also credited as being the only organization in Lebanon that supervises and monitors asbestos abatement projects by encapsulating the asbestos in concrete for safe burial underground. Asbestos dust is highly dangerous to human health and must be safely trapped and stored. Imad expresses concern that there is no other program for this type of safe disposal in Beirut, especially given the amount of demolition going on in the city.

While AUB has contracted out the management of its bio-waste, EHSRM closely monitors and audits the cleaning methods. On average around 18 tons of biohazardous waste is collected for treatment each month.

Recycling is an important component in any green inventory and the EHSRM takes pride in being involved in many aspects of AUB’s recycling efforts. In its own area of expertise, EHSRM has reduced the cost of purchasing chemicals by recycling around 200 kilograms of hazardous chemicals and pathology and laboratory medicine each year. It has also helped reduce hazardous chemical levels by encouraging departments to use less

hazardous materials in areas such as pathology and laboratory medicine and recommending the phasing out of mercury from the AUB Medical Center, the only center in Lebanon to do so.

The Campus Recycling Program, which was initiated in l998 by the Biology Students Society and the Environment Club, was formalized in March 1999, when President Waterbury appointed the University Recycling Committee (URC). The AUB campus is now equipped with paper recycling bins and boxes and collection is coordinated among several university departments, with support from the Physical Plant team.

In addition to the bins and receptacles dotted around campus that collect glass, cans, and litter, the University also recycles print cartridges and ribbons and collects and reforms cooking oil from the cafeteria and residences. Further recycling initiatives are in the pipeline for plastic, toner, x-ray films, and batteries.

Recycled plastic furniture, designed and built by the Physical Plant, is used throughout campus. Marcelino Romanos, director of the Physical Plant, believes AUB is on the right track with its recycling policy and energy conservation measures, but, he cautions, it is a never ending process. Indeed, with so many buildings (58 in all), of different ages and standards to maintain, Romanos explains that energy saving initiatives must be pursued one at a time. Each year a new tranche of work is authorized—such as efficient lighting, automatic sensors for lights and air conditioners, double glazed window replacement, automated hand washing systems, low flow faucets and showerheads—in a balancing act that weighs need against budget.

The Energy Research Group of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA), led by Professor Sami Karaki, recently conducted an energy analysis on campus. This systematic audit of eight buildings, based on a US Department of Energy (DOE) building simulation program, climate data for Beirut, and data logging of electrical equipment to achieve a baseline energy scenario, explored low cost energy saving strategies and potential emission reduction in response to global warming.

Early results have been positive indicating that at least 20 percent of the energy currently being used could be saved with no sacrifice in comfort or productivity by careful operation of heating, ventilating and air conditioning units, and installing high efficiency lighting and energy management control systems. At the same time, measurement levels of carbon dioxide in high usage classrooms indicate the need to install fresh air systems.

The audit concludes with a series of recommendations, many of which have already been implemented on campus during renovations by the Physical Plant, including seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a US Green Building Rating System) certification for new and renovated buildings.

Mohammad Tassi, project manager of the Facilities Planning and Design Unit (FPDU), is Lebanon’s first LEED Accredited Professional. He and Bassem Barhoumi, director of FPDU, take special pride in the fact that the planned Irani/Oxy Engineering Complex is the first LEED registered project in Lebanon. The Charles W. Hostler Student Center and the future Olayan School of Business will also be showcases for AUB’s commitment to environmentally sound buildings according to LEED’s six main criteria for sustainability, which evaluate site sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process. Tassi and Barhoumi are quick to stress that AUB’s commitment to LEED applies to renovations as well as new buildings.

A tour of the Hostler Center provides an exhaustive list of environmentally friendly features, starting with the fact that the materials that were excavated were used as backfill on the site and nearby streets and the University’s attempt to source construction materials from within a radius of 500 miles. The building itself is a mosaic of open and closed spaces, light and shade, with soothing water walls and generous rooftop greenery, walkways, and even “planted walls” protecting outside staircases—all contributing to natural cooling and carbon emission controls. Key features of the Hostler Center are its seawater cooling system, the use of non-toxic building materials, and the intelligent use of solar heating and natural wind cooling factors. In addition, because of grey water recycling, use of low consumption faucets, and rain water collection, the use of potable water will be minimized.

The basement of the Hostler Center is a netherworld of energy-efficient machinery linked to the campus power and steam plants through a subterranean tunnel beneath the new, “waterless” Green Field. AUB’s power plant has been run on high grade diesel fuel to reduce air pollution for years. Thanks to excellent management and maintenance practices, its generators exceed expectations in terms of cost savings and capacity.

While Physical Plant engineers strive to achieve maximum results, their academic colleagues at FEA lead the field in research into new and better energy solutions. Endowed Qatar Chair in Energy Studies and Mechanical Engineering Professor Nasreen Ghaddar heads a team working closely with the Lebanese Ministry of Environment. In addition, Karaki works with an international group charged with designing and testing a hybrid renewable energy system for arid climate conditions.

The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) has identified over 20 AUB faculty members whose research touches on climate change and global warming issues. All will become active participants in IFI’s new Research and Policy Forum on Climate Change in the Arab Region. This exciting new initiative will facilitate the exchange of information and ideas through meetings and lectures, as well as sponsoring new research and establishing a central research database on climate change related issues.

Within a matter of weeks work will begin on the new IFI building on the site of the old infirmary. When demolition starts, the hard working team from the Physical Plant, Imad from EHSRM, engineers Barhoumi and Tassi from FPDU, and many others, will be focused on the safe removal of old building materials and equipment and the use of best practice methods to install the new. One feature of the site that will not be disturbed is an impressive row of tall trees that will provide shade and comfort as they have always done. Close by, gardeners are planting shrubs and vines, creating “green walls” along the campus perimeter. This one snapshot of change and preservation captures AUB’s “green” credentials in every sense of the word.

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AUB has set its sights on taking the lead, both nationally and regionally, in advocating sustainability and the prudent management of resources. The proposed landscape will facilitate the University’s move towards campus-wide sustainable management as well as showcasing how theory can be turned into practice.

Mohammad Tassi, known as “the green guy” to his colleagues in the FPDU, is devoted to the “greening” of buildings, old and new, on the AUB campus. Tassi, a project manager with the FPDU, received the LEED accreditation in June 2007 by demonstrating knowledge of green building practices advocated by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) for the construction and renovation of buildings in accordance with the LEED Green Building Rating System. He is the first LEED-accredited professional at AUB and among the first ten such accredited professionals in the Middle East.

Tassi strives to bring AUB buildings, new and renovated, in line with LEED certification. Several new buildings on campus could qualify with their specialized landscaping, low water consumption, optimized energy performance, and smart lighting systems. The Hostler Student Center’s low water-consuming plants, innovative water technology, and other features make it one campus structure eligible for LEED points.

With a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering (1997) and a master’s degree (2004) in engineering management from AUB, Tassi honed his skills as a mechanical site engineer with a Lebanese electro-mechanical contracting company before joining the Physical Plant as a mechanical project engineer. In January 2003 he became a member of the FPDU, and over the last six years has worked on more than 90 separate projects on the AUB campus, among them the Chilled Water Plant, the infrastructure tunnel, the LEED registered Irani/Oxy Engineering Complex, and the Hostler Center. One of his favorites, an early FPDU project rehabilitating the polluted indoor environment in Jafet Library, was particularly challenging because the work had to be done without disturbing hundreds of studying students.

Tassi works with the University’s Master Plan objectives of “taking the old buildings and bringing them up to date from the point of view of energy, comfort, and health.”

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